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10 of the Most Important Concept Cars of All Time

Automobile History Was Shaped By The Best Concept Cars

Updated October 31, 2018

Concept cars give automakers the opportunity to go berserk and put into practice all kinds of crazy ideas. Just look at what Ford has done over the years. Or what Jeep has recently revealed. Anyway, most of the concept cars never end up seeing production, but some of them do. They are here to serve all kinds of different purposes. Whether it’s the introduction of the new technology, some new detail in design or even overall new design, or simply need to do something flashy; carmakers simply have to keep producing concepts in order to remain competitive and ahead of time.

This time we’re digging deep and bringing you the list of 10 concept cars that can be rightfully considered some of the most important concept cars of all time. Although not all of them have made production, every single one of them has had some kind of an impact on the automotive industry during its time. Some of them have influenced iconic cars, while others have practically revolutionized the market. Whether by introducing the radical new styling or technology to move the car industry forward. Here they are.

Are These The Best Concept Cars From Automobile History?

Buick Y-Job

Year: 1938

You’ll agree that the best place to start with most important concept cars of all time as, well, the beginning. Buick Y-Job concept was the first concept car ever made, and although it never made production, its influence is everlasting. Waterfall grille still adorns modern Buicks today. Not only that, but most of Buick models used Y-Job’s styling cues until the fifties. At the time, Y-Job featured contemporary equipment like the hidden headlamps, power windows and power top that went completely out of sight below the car’s tonneau. It didn’t make production, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t move around. It was driven by none other than GM design chief Harley Earl. He loved it so much that he only replaced it with even more radical LeSabre concept in 1951.

Concept Cars - Buick Y-Job

Rolls Royce Silver Ghost

Year: 1907

There were 4 Rolls Royce Silver Ghosts produced for promotional purposes in 1906, and two of them weren’t even complete (40/50 hp models). It was in 1907, though that the company produced the first Silver Ghost which would give 40/50 hp models their new name. It was the 12th 40/50 hp model produced, so it wasn’t exactly the concept car. Still, it was the only Rolls Royce 40/50 hp to get its own nickname, and the car that single handedly established Rolls Royce as prominent and highly reliable automaker. It achieved that by trekking then treacherous Scottish roads and traveling between London and Glasgow 27 times in succession. That’s 15,000 miles total over horrendous roads from 100 years ago with the press aboard. Risk certainly paid off as aluminum-painted, silent (hence the name Silver Ghost) Rolls Royce broke all the records.

Concept Cars - Rolls Royce Silver Ghost

Lamborghini Marzal

Year: 1967

The Lamborghini Marzal is the grandfather of wedge-shaped cars. If being the first wedge ever produced doesn’t justify its appearance on the most important concepts list, then I don’t know what does. And we have then 29 years old Marcello Gandini of Bertone to thank for it. You know, the designer of Miura, Countach, and Diablo among other things. Marzal was introduced at 1967 Geneva Auto Show and it featured fully transparent gullwing doors and louvered rear window. 175 horsepower from 2.0L in-line six engine wasn’t all that much by Lamborghini’s standards, but that didn’t really matter for a one-off car. Design would later be used in Lamborghini Espada which was produced between 1968 and 1978, and was also designed by Gandini.

Concept Cars - Lamborghini Marzal

Porsche 695 and 901

Years: 1961 and 1963 respectively

The Porsche 911 is one of the most famous cars ever made, and it’s unique for having two separate concepts. Porsche 695 (T7 prototype) was introduced in 1961, and one can see the resemblance at first sight. Well, at least up front. Problem was the rear end, and German automaker resorted to making the new concept dubbed Porsche 901. That was also the name it was supposed to have, but Peugeot had the rights of using three digit nomenclature with the zero in the middle, so the Germans simply replaced the zero with one, and the rest is history. However, they didn’t do it soon enough for the first 82 models sold which already wore the 901 badge.

Concept Cars - Porsche 695

1961 Porsche 695

Concept Cars - 1963-901

1963 Porsche 901

Lincoln Futura

Year: 1954

The Lincoln Futura was one costly Ford-designed and Ghia-built prototype which never directly influenced a successor. So, why is this 250,000 (approximately $2.2 million in today’s money) convertible so important? Why, for being the Batmobile, of course. Before becoming the sixties series Adam West’s Batmobile, Futura also appeared in 1959 It Started with a Kiss – a film directed by George Marshall, and starred by Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds. Although not having a direct successor, Futura did influence Lincoln’s future generation of cars by giving them the flashy headlight design. Moreover, it also had a large impact on the second generation Ford Thunderbird. Futura ended up being sold at 2013 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction for $4,620,000.

Concept Cars - Lincoln Futura

Ford Mustang I

Year: 1962

The Ford Mustang I concept was an entirely different car than the pony car icon we’ve been knowing these years, but it still had an impact on it. At least it gave it the name. This 2-door roadster had its engine in the middle which was strange enough for Ford back in ’62, but what to say about the engine itself? It was the 91ci 1.5L V4 making 89 horsepower in street tune or 109 ponies in racing tune. Mustang II prototype which was basically what became the Mustang, was spawned out of Mustang I’s shortcomings. Apart from lacking the required appeal to the general public, Mustang I was way too complex to produce. As mentioned, though, it played its part in creating the most renowned pony muscle car there ever was.

Concept Cars - Ford Mustang I

Volvo VESC

Year: 1972

I know what you’re thinking. How the hell does Volvo 240 predecessor qualify as one of the most important concept cars ever made? Well, if you’re looking at its boxy styling, you’re looking in the wrong direction. Its name VESC stands for Volvo Experimental Safety Car, and that’s the key to its importance. Plus, you can’t really undermine the design impact. VESC would reshape Volvo’s strategy by having the anti-lock brakes, airbags, automatic seat belts, collapsible steering wheel, rollover protection, crumple zones, and backup camera among other things. That was more than 40 years ago, mind you. Today, Volvo still lives up to the reputation of one of the leaders in safety feature development. There aren’t many cars safer than Volvo anyway, and they have VESC to thank for that.

Concept Cars - Volvo VESC

AMC AMX Vignale

Year: 1966

I don’t know. Maybe I just have a soft spot for the AMC in general, but I do believe AMX Vignale was one of the major concept cars of its time. It created the platform for both the AMX and the Javelin which were two very good cars back then (although not appreciated correspondingly).

Vignale concept or AMX/2 concept was produced by Vignale – Italian Turin-based coachbuilder as part of the Project IV. Vignale only took 78 days to commission the prototype. It was presented at the 1966 New York Auto Show, and it hinted at some future cues in AMC’s design as mentioned earlier. It came with almost hidden extra thin A pillars and open-air, rear “Ramble Seat”. Powered by then new 290ci Typhoon V8, AMX Vignale coupe was practically carried over into production. Of course, it lost the rear seat and gained the A pillar before making it to the streets.

Concept Cars - AMC AMX Vignale

Willys Quad

Year: 1942

Willys Quad was the prototype created for the purpose of answering the US Army call for new off-road vehicle that would serve in the WWII. Competition was stern with American Bantam and Ford Pygmy standing in its way. As we all know, Willys MB is what came out of that competition, so Quad obviously impressed the most. There were five prototypes built for the purpose, and two of them were delivered for the competition at Camp Holabird, Maryland. One of the main reasons Quad beat its rivals was the more powerful Go-Devil engine with 60 horsepower. It was much heavier, though, but Willys MB would borrow a number of details from its direct competitors in order to shed some weight. The rest is, as they say, history. In the end, after the WWII, it evolved into Willys CJ-2A. Sadly, neither of the Quads are known to have survived.

Concept Cars - Jeep Willys Quad

Mako Shark

Year: 1961

Mako Shark or XP-755 concept car is practically a preview of the second generation Chevrolet Corvette. Not only second gen, but pretty much every single generation of the ‘Vette after that. Mako Shark was assembled in 1961, and Corvette C2 was launched two years later. Concept itself, designed by Larry Shinoda under Bill Mitchell’s guidance, was inspired by Mitchell’s own 1959 Stingray racer XP87 concept. That concept’s cues would also inspire the C2 Corvette Sting Ray. To date, Mako Shark Corvette remains one of the most successful concept cars in terms of percentage of carried over features. When you look upon it and the production C2 Corvette, there’s the unmistakable sensation of how similar these cars are.

There’s a back story to it as well. Mitchell wanted it to resemble the fish as much as possible, and design team simply couldn’t manage to find the right hue. So what did they do? They kidnapped the fish overnight and finally hit that sweet blue-gray tone with white underside. And Mitchell was none the wiser.

Concept Cars - Chevrolet Mako Shark Concept

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Nikola Potrebić
About Nikola Potrebić

Despite driving a piece of junk, Nikola still manages to survive the harrowing experience called "A road trip in a Yugo," day in, day out. On the other hand, precious few things move him as muscle cars do. Especially those from the bygone golden era, which makes him wonder why wasn't he born a few decades earlier? Well, at least he's been given the opportunity to enjoy the likes of the Pontiak Aztek, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Fiat Multipla, and other lovely millennials, right? Come to think of it, I'll stick with my Yugo. Thank you very much.

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